What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 25-31 October 2021

South Australia to Introduce New Bill to Ban Harassment in Parliament

South Australia is expected to pass a new code of conduct through both houses in parliament next week. The code of conduct will officially prevent harassment within parliament. The proposed code addresses five key areas: conflicts of interest, gifts, public resources, confidentiality, and standards of behaviour. Should an employee breach the code, they will be reported to the Office of Public Integrity and then referred to the Ombudsman. Should the employee be found to have breached the code, the Ombudsman can make recommendations that are available to the public.

Victorian Government to Introduce Anti-Discrimination Laws to Bolster LGBT+ Protection

On 27 October 2021, the Victorian government introduced the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 to parliament. The amendments would increase protections for LGBT+ people from discrimination in religious organisations. The outcome of these changes is that religious organisations will be prohibited from making employment decisions for staff based on sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity. Currently, religious organisations are able to refuse services to or terminate employment of LGBT+ people on religious grounds. The Bill aims to acknowledge the importance of faith while protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination. The proposed changes have sparked religious freedom debates among groups such as Equality Australia and the Australian Christian Lobby.

Government Invites Feedback on Workplace Gender Equality Act

On 28 October, it was announced that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will be conducting a review of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012. This decision was made in consideration of the federal government’s promise to review the Act under the Women’s Budget Statement 2021-2022. The review will address gender pay gaps and ongoing reporting obligations of employers. The review aims to support the work of Respect@Work Council, which focuses on sexual harassment and misconduct in workplaces.

Australian Study Reveals That Indigenous Women Are Most Likely to Experience Workplace Discrimination

The Gari Yala (Speak the Truth) report was released on 26 October 2021, detailing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the most likely to experience discrimination in Australian workplaces. Additionally, Indigenous women are the least likely demographic to be supported when they face racism or unfair treatment at work. The report is the first to research the experiences of Indigenous women in the employment space. The report recommended that managers focus on creating safe workplaces for Indigenous women, particularly those with caring responsibilities. The CEO of Diversity Council of Australia, Lisa Annese, commented on the findings, saying that it highlights that women with intersectional identities face greater challenges at work.

Sydney University Professor Fakes Harassment Against Herself

The former Dean of Science at the University of Technology in Sydney has avoided jail-time, after been found guilty of pretending she was being harassed. In 2019, Dianne Jolley began sending letters to herself. She then claimed that someone entered her property and cut up her clothing. The University was deeply concerned for her safety, spending $100,000 on extra safety measures. The Court sentenced Dianne Jolley to an Intensive Corrections Order, which would require her to undergo community service and counselling.

Lawyers Advocate for End of Confidentiality Agreements in Cases of Sexual Harassment

The Australian Law Alliance (ALA) is advocating to end the use of non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality agreements in cases of sexual harassment. The organisation argues that these types of agreements silent victims and protect the reputation of the perpetrators. The ALA proposes that the agreements only be used in cases where it is requested by survivors. The Victorian Workplace Safety Minister has since established a taskforce to draft recommendations for the Victorian state government to re-evaluate the use of NDAs in sexual harassment cases.

Scott Morrison Named as Respondent in Age and Disability Discrimination Case

The Australia Human Rights Commission is pursuing a discrimination complaint against the National Disability Insurance Agency. The claim is contesting age restrictions on funding for people over 65. The complainant, Dr Peter Freckleton, suffered from polio as a child, leading to the loss of use of his legs. He submitted his complaint after being denied disability support services under NDIS due to being over 65. The case is particularly unique as it is the first formal discrimination case that is naming the Prime Minister as the Commonwealth representative. Australia is a signatory to the United National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention precludes discrimination against people with disability. The Australian Human Rights Commission considers that Australia has breached its obligations to Dr Freckleton and people over the age of 65 living with a disability.